A tempestuous experience for villains whose revenge is purgatory-like

A tempestuous experience for villains whose revenge is purgatory like

CLEVELAND — It’s too bad the New World colonists didn’t have the technology available that’s put to great use in the riveting, engrossing Great Lakes Theatre production of William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” on-stage through Sunday.
Surely the British would’ve been so disoriented, they’d swim back to England and let America become a country in peace.
In director Drew Barr’s psychological, dark production, he tries to enter the minds of a shipwrecked group which lands on a mysterious island inhabited by, among others, Prospero, the learned former Duke of Milan (pronounced “Milin"). His brother Antonio usurped Prospero’s power 12 years earlier, leaving him and his young daughter, Amanda, in a leaking boat. They survived, landing on the island. Now, Antonio and Alonso, the King of Naples (a palpably repentant, suffering Dougfred Miller), who helped Antonio with his plot are sailing home to Italy.
Prospero has gained magical powers and begun ruling the island and its other inhabitants, including the spirit Ariel. The two conjure up a storm to exact revenge.
For the most part, the actors deserve praise for convincingly speaking and singing the Bard’s language clearly and conveying the meaning and emotions behind the words.
But scenic designer Russell Metheny, lighting designer Rick Martin and sound designer Matt Tierney are the stars.
The unsettling sounds suggest the creaking, slow-shutting doors of a prison, the creepy, foreboding noise of a horror film and Hitchcock-like suspense. Otherworldly strobe lights bathe the stage with hues of purple, grey, black, red, orange-yellow. A celestial scene adds to the strangeness of it all. There’s also Prospero’s cell, which, in addition to adding to the claustrophobic effect, doubles as the ship, which comes with its own harrowing sound effects.
A white screen allows shadowy figures to pass amid the oddly colored lighting.
The effect created by all the above is nightmarish; we’re allowed to enter the characters’ “dizzying states of consciousness,” as director Barr writes in the program. The unpredictable, relentless sound effects suggest a living nightmare.
Revenge is harsh in this production.
Barr’s decision to stress the dark and unsettling is appropriate to heighten the revenge factor. The aura’s also appropriate when you consider today’s angst-filled world.
Costume designer Kim Krumm Sorenson has dressed the characters appropriately to fit the light, dark and non-realistic elements of the play.
“The Tempest” is one of Shakespeare’s “Romances,” a genre blending light and dark, grief and joy, serious and comic. 
The romances are less light-hearted and more serious than the comedies. Conversely, while the romances contain dramatic, sympathy-evoking situations and the action might seem headed toward tragedy. But the ending is happy through reunifications, reconciliations, forgiveness and harmony.
While this production leans toward the dark, there’s enough bright moments, revelry and low-style humor for comic relief and to prevent the play from being unbearably bleak.
Much of that comedy (even if it’s a tad over the top) stems from the jesters Trinculo and Stephano, played respectively with an unsteady, drunken energy by Dustin Tucker and Tom Ford.
The pair could come off as twins, their performances are so similar.
Their shenanigans involve toying playfully with the island’s “monster” Caliban, a savage figure and the son of the dead witch Sycorax. Caliban believes he inherited the island from her and that Prospero and his daughter are trespassing colonialists. Both have become Prospero’s slave.
Unfortunately, actor J. Todd Adams fails to make us care about Caliban; he comes across as a comic villain not to be taken seriously in a superhero movie.
Ryan David O’Byrne imbues Ariel with a desperation for freedom and a soldier-like posture, but seems too human and not mischievous enough.
A stick wielding and slamming D.A. Smith fares much better as Prospero, conveying a commanding, unrelenting presence. This Prospero’s seething anger and thirst for revenge is as fear-evoking as his compassion for his daughter is touching.
Prospero’s a parental, stern figure to his daughter and Alonso’s son, Ferdinand (a dreamy, romantic Patrick Riley), who love each other at first sight. Part of the production’s comedy stems from the way Smith, on a whim, transitions from giving his sincere approval to Miranda and Ferdinand’s courtship to sternly stopping in mid-sentence and rebuking Ferdinand. As played by Smith, Prospero’s unpredictable as the suddenly startling sound effects.
One of the play’s several themes is the capacity to forgive and Smith’s Prospero smoothly transitions into someone who has found that ability. By the end, he’s as nice as the honest councilor Gonzalo (an honorable, polished, passionate Aled Davies; picture a hybrid between Sean Connery and Michael Caine.). 
Gonzalo is one character who deserves to be spared from the purgatory-like atmosphere.

Aaron Krause is a Reflector staff writer. Reach him at akrause@norwalkreflector.com

WHAT: “The Tempest
WHEN: Through Sunday. Curtain times for all evening performances will remain at 7:30 p.m., with a 1:30 p.m. curtain time for Saturday matinees and a 3:00 p.m. curtain time for Sunday matinees.
WHERE: Hanna Theatre, 2067 E. 14th St., Cleveland.
HOW MUCH: Single performance tickets range in price from $15-$70 (Student tickets are $13) and are available by calling (216) 241-6000, by ordering online at GreatLakesTheater.org or by visiting the Playhouse Square Ticket Office.